Campaigners opposing the expansion of London Stansted airport have filed a legal challenge aimed at forcing the UK Airports Commission to reconsider options for the gateway, after one of the commissioners was forced to resign last month.
The Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) group has filed a judicial review with the UK High Court to force the Commission to reset its sift criteria – the selection process it used to assess airport expansion options – on the grounds of “apparent bias” from Geoff Muirhead.
SSE has also called on the High Court to force the Commission to postpone publication of a shortlist of preferred expansion options until the review has been concluded.
Muirhead, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group until 2010, was forced to step down from the Commission on 20 September after SSE revealed he was still working in an ambassadorial role for the airport operator until earlier this year.
At the time of his departure, the UK Department for Transport said that while there was "no evidence whatsoever" of bias by Muirhead towards the MAG submission, he was stepping down "by mutual consent".
In its High Court submission, SSE says there is evidence Muirhead "played a part in determining the sift criteria" and that as he was the only commissioner with a background in aviation, it was "reasonable to consider that other commissioners would tend to defer to his judgement on airport-specific issues".
The Airports Commission says it "firmly rejects" the claims made by Stop Stansted Expansion, arguing that its processes to date to have been appropriate and robust.
"The Commission's sift criteria were informed by public consultation and incorporate a wide range of environmental, economic and social factors – including local environmental issues such as impacts on landscape and the built heritage," it adds. "The sift criteria demonstrate the openness of the Commission's process, and the importance it has placed on an integrated and evidence-based approach to reaching its recommendations."
The Airports Commission is due to make an interim report on the best options for increasing airport capacity in the London area later this year, before publishing a final report in 2015.